Studio: Walt Disney Productions
Country of Origin: United States
First Screened: August 27, 1943
After the ugliness and race-baiting of the Ducktators, what say we finish our look at American propaganda shorts with something with a little bit of class, by God! Reason and Emotion is a personal favourite of mine, not just because it’s a gorgeous cartoon (although it is) but because it’s that rarest of things, a piece of propaganda that actually appeals to your better nature. Propaganda shorts of this era came in many flavours. Some just plonked existing characters into war-specific settings with little commentary and had them do their thing. Some mocked and belittled the Axis powers to boost morale. And some were designed with an educational thrust to inform the public about a specific topic. In fact, even after the war had ended Disney continued making educational shorts on all kinds of subjects.
Reason and Emotion is, ironically enough, a propaganda short warning of the dangers of propaganda. It effectively and engagingly illustrates how propaganda works on the mind and how demagogues use emotion to suppress reason. For this reason, I almost hesitate to call it propaganda. “Anti-propaganda” might be a better term. The short was released in 1943 to great acclaim and was even nominated for an Academy Award, although it lost to the Tom and Jerry short Yankee Doodle Mouse, the first and last time the Academy ever got something wrong.
So the short starts by setting up its concept: Inside every person’s head are two little people, the prim and fuddy-duddy Reason who guides our actions, and Emotion, a loud mouthed caveman who spends his time back-seat driving and calling Reason a cuck.
And before you ask, yes, Inside Out derived a lot of inspiration from this particular short. The short demonstrates that, whenever Emotion wrestles the steering wheel out of Reason’s hands, things tend to go south quickly. For guys this means harassing ladies in the street, for ladies this means eating the wrong food and getting fat.
Look. It’s a short from the forties and it’s not racist. Let’s just count our blessings, ‘kay?
The short now takes a look at how the constant stream of bad news from the media about the war turns our protagonist into a nervous wreck (buddy, I feel your feels).
While Reason tries to keep his chill, Emotion gets more and more panicked until he straight up tries to murder Reason with his own steering wheel to which the narrator snarks “Go ahead! Put Reason out of the way! That’s fine….for HITLER!”
Also, no word of a lie, I love that line so much I work it into everyday conversation at every possible opportunity.
The narrator explains that Hitler uses appeals to fear, sympathy, pride and hate to control his audience.
We now see a typical German man listening to one of Hitler’s speeches. Or, as the narrator puts it in a tone so dripping with sarcasm that they must have had to mop up the recording booth afterwards: “Behold! The Nazi superman.”
We see that Fritz Von Averagegerman also has his own Reason and Emotion and how Emotion is controlled by Hitler’s manipulation, becoming larger and larger while Reason shrinks until he’s been completely subdued and overpowered.
Most propaganda throughout history has tried to “other” the enemy and make them seem less than human, a monster that can be killed without regret or remorse. Reason and Emotion takes a diametrically opposed approach, showing its American audience that the Germans are no different from them (I mean sure, their little interior cavemen have pointy helmets but that’s a minor cosmetic difference). Instead, the cartoon says “This is what fear and hatred did to the Germans, and it’ll do the same to you if you let it”.
Reason and Emotion is a triumph across the board; it’s beautifully animated, funny, smart, humane and (unfortunately) its message has lost little of its vital urgency.
Now, I think that we’ve given America enough attention for the time being. For the next short, let’s move a little further afield.
How’s the animation?: Disney pulled out all the stops on this one and it’s absolutely smurges.
Art or Propaganda?: Art.
How does this rate on the Jingo-Meter?: Plays it nice and low-key. Let’s call it Two Gun-Wielding Statues of Liberty out of Five.
What’s going on with the War?: In August 1943 eleven Catholic nuns are executed by Nazi firing squad after volunteering to take the place of local men who were due to be killed in Nowogrodek, Poland. General Patton strikes two young soldiers suffering from what is now known to be PTSD and is formally reprimanded. The Soviets retake the city of Kursk, dealing a major blow to the Germans. Winston Churchill refuses to ship British wheat to India, triggering a massive famine in Bengal. And in the Pacific theatre, two native Solomon Islanders save the life of a young US seaman named John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Dude, is this racist?: Dude, this is so not racist it actually calls out racism as unscientific garbage. Considering Jim Crow was very much alive in this era, that’s kind of awesome.
Should I buy bonds?: Why are you asking me that question when you could be buying bonds?